State health department funds mobile syringe exchange for Laurel, Whitley, Knox, Clay and Jackson counties

Five Eastern Kentucky counties will soon have a mobile syringe exchange to minimize the spread of infectious diseases and to help get people who are addicted to drugs into treatment, Justin Kase reports for WYMT-TV in Hazard. It is expected to be running in two months.

A specially outfitted van, called a Mobile Harm Reduction Unit, is funded by a grant from the state Department for Public Health and will serve adjoining Knox, Laurel, Whitley, Clay and Jackson counties. All but Jackson are among the top 54 counties in the nation with an increased risk of outbreaks of hepatitis C and HIV due to intravenous drug use.

Mark Hensley, the executive director of the Laurel County Health Department, told Kase that the mobile exchange will offer many of the same services as stationary ones, including HIV and hepatitis C testing, hepatitis A vaccines, information about addiction treatment, and a peer counselor aboard.

Each of the counties in the program has an established syringe exchange in place. Hensley said Laurel County opened its syringe exchange about two months ago, and participation has been a bit slow. He told Kase that he expected better participation with the mobile van because it might help to break down some of the barriers associated with syringe exchange programs, such as “reliable transportation or just fear of the program itself.”

The plan is for the unit to spend one day in each county before moving on to the next. Locations have not been determined. “We might establish four different locations within the county, you know, maybe try to hit the four corners of those rural areas,” Hensley told Kase.